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Hungry for Help | Data shows food insecurity rising in Kentucky during the pandemic

While food pantries have played a vital role during the pandemic, experts estimate about one in five people are food insecure in Jefferson County due to COVID-19.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Nationwide, people are struggling with how to get their next meal. It’s a problem that’s been compounded by COVID-19. 

Those who enter Highlands Community Ministries in Louisville say they are one step closer to a full stomach and a better night’s sleep, because their worry about how they'll get their next meal has been lifted. 

“This place is godsend," said 72-year-old Jimmy Gibson, who comes to the food pantry with his wife once a week to stock up on groceries. 

Gibson said he doesn’t like thinking about where he and his wife Rosemary would be without the food pantry. 

“We would probably be on the street by now. It’s really saved us," Gibson said. 

Last year, he suffered a stroke. It cost him his eyesight and unfortunately, He lost his income as a restaurant worker. 

“And I have so much trouble adjusting to this," said Gibson. “I couldn’t do my job right anymore."

He had to say goodbye to his favorite hobby, driving motorcycles and antique cars. But among his biggest challenges: affording groceries. 

“Has it been harder to get food because of COVID?” asked WHAS11 FOCUS investigative reporter Paula Vasan. 

“Yes," Gibson replied. 

He said the pandemic has only made it even more challenging for him to get around safely. From their home just about 10 blocks from Highlands food pantry, Gibson and his wife stop by once a week for fruit, bread, and other essentials.

“I rely on this place for just about everything we need," he said. 

Among the items flying off the shelves fastest: meat. 

Staff at Highlands Community Ministries told us a big meat delivery comes at the beginning of every month. But within about two weeks, there’s not much left. 

Staff said they are seeing about four times the number of people needing food compared to before COVID-19. 

“Because of the loss of jobs in the area, places, shutting down. Kids are home from school all day and families just need us more than ever right now," Highlands Community Ministries' food pantry manager, Tiffany Murphy, said.

University of Illinois professor, Craig Gundersen, has been studying the problem. Around the country, he projects the number of people who are food insecure in 2020 could increase to 50 million, up from 35 million last year.

According to data from the nonprofit, Feeding America, this hunger for help is growing. In Jefferson County, where Highlands Community Ministries is located, experts estimate about one in five people are food insecure due to COVID-19.

Credit: WHAS11

In Kentucky and Indiana, experts estimate about one in six people are food insecure in 2020. 

The situation is even worse for children in our area, with experts estimating about 1 in 4 children are food insecure.

Credit: WHAS11

It means more people are suffering from a lack of consistent access to enough food.

“COVID pushed them over the edge," said Gundersen.

He said COVID did not create the problem of food insecurity but it exacerbated it.

FOCUS analyzed counties in both Kentucky and Indiana where food insecurity is most rampant. The top 30: all in Kentucky. 

The vast majority of them are in the rural Appalachian, eastern part of the state, a region historically vulnerable to poverty.

Credit: WHAS11

In some of the most impacted areas like Magoffin and Harlan counties, about 1 in 2 children are food insecure. Gundersen said areas faring the worst during COVID had trouble before the pandemic too. 

Credit: WHAS11

“These are areas that have been traditionally poor for literally generations. They’re not many jobs available in those areas," said Gundersen.

Without a job himself and trouble keeping his fridge stocked, Gibson said he relies partly on the roughly $65 he receives each month in food stamps. 

“It lasts about a week to two weeks," said Gibson. "That’s not very much when you have to go to the store with the prices now."

He comes to Highlands Community Ministries to get through the rest of the month. 

“I feel every neighborhood should have a place like this. People really need this," said Gibson. 

He said the food pantry doesn’t just provide nourishment, but a sense of security, knowing he and his wife aren’t alone. 

RESOURCES

A spokesperson with the nonprofit Feeding Kentucky said parents can text 'FOOD' to 877-877 to locate free meals for kids in their community. 

JCPS students and parents can call 313-HELP for district assistance. Families can also apply for food assistance, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) at benefind.ky.gov. 

Benefind offers other resources, such as child care assistance.

Here are other local resources aimed at alleviating food insecurity:

  • Dare to Care: www.daretocare.org  
  • Metro Louisville Senior Nutrition (Meals on Wheels Program): www.louisvilleky.gov   
  • Association of Community Ministries: www.louisvilleministries.org  
  • Neighborhood Place: www.louisvilleky.gov  
  • LouieConnect: www.louieconnect.com

If food insecurity is something you’re dealing with, our FOCUS investigative team wants to hear from you. Send an email to FOCUS@whas11.com. 

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